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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 9, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

    Lest We Forget

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Before they disappear under the receding wave of time, here are some impressions of the recent elections. In the course of the campaign, some people complained they were boring but the present writer didn’t find that to be the case.

    gerrychristy.jpg

    In happier times . . . or maybe not: Gerry Adams (left) and Christy Burke
    (Photograph by Matt Kavanagh)

    The carry-on over Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was “a bit of craic”. Frank Flannery dropped a heavy hint to his party’s supporters that it was ok now to transfer to the “Shinners”. It apparently went down like the proverbial lead balloon with the core-vote Blueshirts.

    As the Americans say, “I don’t have a dog in this fight” but I can’t help noticing that we expect the unionists up North to share power with these people, so what’s the big deal south of the Border?

    Many members of the unionist community actually died at the hands of the Provisional IRA, yet the DUP and UUP are called bigots if they don’t go into government with the political wing of the Provos. Can someone out there explain why it is different down here?

    And in what way were Clann na Poblachta, led by former IRA chief of staff Seán MacBride, more acceptable as coalition partners back in 1948, not to mention Democratic Left in 1994, even though members of  the latter had been fairly recently linked with the Official republican movement?

    It wasn’t a great election for Sinn Féin. Mary Lou McDonald lost her European seat in Dublin and the promising Pádraig Mac Lochlainn was blown out of the water by Pat “the Cope” Gallagher in North-West. Now comes the resignation of party stalwart, the popular Christy Burke, who ran in the Dublin Central byelection. In Dublin, Joe Higgins, despite his Marxist beliefs, was considered a more palatable alternative to Fianna Fáil than Mary Lou.

    The whole issue of Ms McDonald’s attendance record was woefully mishandled as was the question of whether or not she would seek a Dáil seat in the next general election. Higgins did not suffer by his declaration that he would indeed be running for the  Dáil and the electorate would be represented by his substitute. Toiréasa Ferris had a good election though and there are some other newcomers like Tomás Sharkey in Louth – a cousin of Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness, incidentally – about whom more will be heard.

    On a personal level, one has to feel a certain sympathy for FF’s Eoin Ryan who is a mild-mannered, civil sort of chap. But he didn’t make enough waves during the last five years and you need to get yourself in the public eye if you want to get elected, or re-elected, to Europe.

    The Greens are in a pickle – pardon the pun. The summer recess really can’t come quick enough for them. Their TDs face the prospect of  instant destruction if the general election is any time soon but, on the other hand, is it a sustainable position to remain in office when your party representatives on the ground can barely get elected dogcatcher?

    FF are in the doldrums. Many are blaming Brian Cowen but, as a party insider pointed out to me, they cannot ditch the fellow now because then they would have a second leader who did not come through the democratic process. They could drop him closer to a general election perhaps although there is hardly an obvious alternative in Cabinet to catch the people’s imagination (maybe they should look on the backbenches where there is an array of bright young ambitious types). Speculation about Mary Coughlan losing her place as Tánaiste is widespread. The narrower stage of a Government Department suits her better than the merciless glare in which a deputy prime minister must operate.

    Fine Gael and Labour are riding high. From their own viewpoint, they will have to send out a signal that they are not irrevocably at complete odds over banking policy, if they want to be a plausible alternative government. We have a reasonable idea as to FG’s policies if they got into government; Labour’s are rather more opaque.

    The word from an FF contact is that the party is “taking no more nonsense” and that may be the reason Micheál Martin had such a robust go at Labour’s Joan Burton on Questions and Answers last night. Cowen was pretty combative in the Dáil today as well. There is a view that, up to now, FF has not been losing the argument, they’ve been throwing it away.

    There were quite a few Far Left candidates elected in the “locals” which, along with the elevation of Joe Higgins, suggests there is a fresh market for this kind of politics. Indeed a chap I knew in the heady days of the late Sixties, who I thought had eased into a comfortable retirement, phoned me yesterday to ask, “Is it time we called the people out on the streets?”

    And who would have thought a former FG leader and ex-taoiseach would de facto urge votes for a Fianna Fáil candidate, as happened with Garret FitzGerald and Eoin Ryan? I guess this means the Civil War is over at last.

    • Harry Leech says:

      “The narrower stage of a Government Department suits her better than the merciless glare in which a deputy prime minister must operate.”

      I can think of many far more suitable positions for Mary Coughlan than TD or government minister, let alone Tánaiste.

      Can anyone explain to me what she has done to make her government ministerial material, other than being related to two previous Coughlans who were also FF TD’s for the same constituency? What exactly has she achieved?

      Lest I be accused of sexism (apparently it’s all the rage at the moment) my recall also seems limited when it comes to Brian Cowen’s or Brian Lenihan’s qualifications for their positions. The sooner we stop voting FF and stop voting for people based solely on their name (and worse, combinations of the two) the better.

      The massive redeeming feature of this election was two FF candidates running on nothing but their family name being rejected soundly by the electorate. There may be hope for our nation yet.

    • Major Alfonso says:

      Martin’s performance was bellicose, he has the feel of someone with far more invested in Government than Dermot “it’s a job” Ahern. How much loyalty does he have towards Cowen and Coughlan? I wonder if the once future-Taoiseach might not be eyeing the top seat in FF with more interest?

      I don’t believe the Civil War ever loomed too large in Garret’s mind, it was simply his misfortune to have to negotiate a political system defined by that breach. The same may be said to a lesser extent of Lynch perhaps.

      I doubt Joe Higgins’s elevation to Brussels/Strasbourg will sit well with him, he’s obviously very concerned by the idea of Ireland rejecting Lisbon twice or sending MEPs with an aura of rejecting the EU. At least we didn’t send the Tycoon of Tuam.

    • barratree says:

      Have to say Deaglán, I thought this was an appallingly superficial campaign for the Euro elections. I thought the Iirish Times coverage of the candidates’ positions on issues was pretty much absent while it merely focused on the events, personalities and polls. The same can be said for RTE.

      We’ll have a round of CAP budget decisions to make in the lifetime of this parliament and yet somehow the issue was never really beached on where candidates stood, be it from an agricultural, environmental, or development aid point of view. Same goes for pretty much every major European issue. Instead, we had reports of what the candidates soundbytes were, and that they were all interested in creating jobs.

      4th estate failed big-time, yet still seems to feel entitled to moan about the electorate voting on parish pump issues.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, I think when it comes to the North that many people in the South take the view that part of the reason for SF’s rise was the intransigent refusal of the unionist political class to do business with nationalists. If a substantive majority of mainstream unionism had done a deal back in the ’70s with the SDLP then we’ve have been saved 20 years more of the Troubles.

      That the medicine was that much more unpalatable to them now was viewed down here as the simple consequence of a failure to take the milder concoction on offer all those years ago. And frankly they were bigots. I’ve personally experienced direct if mild racism myself on my travels and though the people involved were amazingly polite about the whole thing it was straightforwardly race-based and it’s quite hard to mentally process bigotry when you encounter it.

      Seamus Mallon’s 2Sunningdale for slow learners” comment about the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t only aimed at Sinn Féin.

      While the Free State and the later constitutional set-up were discriminatory against members of minority faiths, they weren’t against northern nationalists. Hence the distinction between how we react to those who had, or so they claimed, no argument with us but disdainfully refer to the “Dublin” Government as if we were somehow less Irish than they are or who were robbing our banks or holding up rural post offices or murdering our police force. And now who tell tales of woe because their daddy was in prison for arms smuggling but who can’t bring themselves to condemn the unsanctioned robbery at Adare and the murder of Jerry McCabe. Instead we get the Japanese mentality towards WWII that it was just this terrible thing that happened but somehow no one thereabouts was blame. It is still treated like a storm that just blew up out of nowhere.

      As regards Clann na Poblachta, I think that because the FG people were themselves in part contemporaries of Seán MacBride that they could see it was a road they might have themselves followed had things been different. As for Democratic Left it had been 20 years since the Official IRA had been active. And on paper at least it looked like they had left that behind with the Workers’ Party. If SF had left behind the armed struggle with Republican Sinn Féin then perhaps it would be more acceptable to people.

    • dealga says:

      It’s quite simple – we have ‘normal’ politics, the North doesn’t. We ‘expect’ the DUP to share power with Sinn Féin in the North (and vice versa) because the agreement they came to, to end a nasty little tribal war, was that both traditions would share power.

      Therefore, if that many Northerners are stupid enough to vote for Sinn Féin and the DUP, that’s the government they’re stuck with. If the Unionists can’t hack sharing power now they should direct their ire at their predecessors in the ’60s who engaged in state-sponsored terrorism against the Civil Rights movement.

      In the meantime, for as long as Northerners insist on voting along tribal lines, they will be stuck with the utter mediocrities they continue to elect.

      It’s ‘different down here’ because we haven’t created a situation where we owe Sinn Féin supporters anything. Down here Sinn Féin actually have to articulate policies for running a real country. And they continuously fail miserably to do so, with Beardy Adams being Exhibit A in the parade of out-of-depth Shinners best left to the conflict-resolution circuit.

    • Deaglán says:

      Some fascinating comments there. Nobody with a kind word for Sinn Fein, it would appear.
      Dan, tell us more about your “racial hostility” experience. Must say I didn’t meet any of that in my years in Belfast.
      Also, Dan, did you see my response, in comments on a previous post, to you analysis of the fall of the Reynolds government (which incidentally opened the door of Govt Buildings to Democratic Left)?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglan, I didn’t see that response about the Reynolds government, will have to dig back to see it – if any redesign of the blog section is ever looked at a latest comments section on the side would assist. By my travels I didn’t mean to suggest it was travels in the north. My bad is that is what came across. Fact is it was another continent entirely, there is a hint in a later part of that piece.

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:

      Deaglán,
      I don’t think the Frank Flannery comment was aimed at getting Fine Gael voters to transfer to Sinn Fein. I believe it had a different objective entirely. It was done in the immediate aftermath of the last poll before the election that showed Fine Gael going down two points and Labour going up three. My interpretation of the comment was that it was aimed at stemming an anticipated flow of disillusioned Fianna Fail voters to Labour (and in the case of Dublin Central to an independent of left-republican lineage).

      Far from the Civil War being over, as a canvasser you frequently come across Fianna Fail voters for whom it is unthought-of to vote for Fine Gael. As one man said to me last week he tried to vote Fine Gael before but his pencil would not let him. My interpretation of Mr. Flannery’s comment was that it was to give Fine Gael some republican credibility. In other words to deal with that “blueshirt” tag. In typical spin mode Fine Gael simultaneously gave out contradictory signals re Sinn Fein aimed at different audiences.

      It has also been very noticeable to me the heavy use of the colour green by Fine Gael in some of its promotional material lately, including at its last pre election press conference. Did the comment work? In the days following, what made me draw my conclusions about the aim of the comment was the fact that a couple of (disillusioned) Fianna Fail voters asked me would Labour do business with Sinn Fein. I pointed out that we already had. I think that it may have worked somewhat at local level in terms of damage limitation. But proportionately the party that made significant gains at local level was the Labour Party. Fine Gael did not actually do that well considering the numbers lost by Fianna Fail and the Greens. At latest count, Labour has gained 31 council seats, Fine Gael 47. Quite a few Fine Gael gains were sitting councillors, many ex PD councillors. Despite Fine Gael gains in Dublin, Labour came out with the largest number of councillors of any party. The ploy did not work at all at European Election level. As you pointed out in your newspaper article yesterday it was Labour that made the significant gains gaining 2 seats while Fine Gael lost a seat.

      Joanna

    • Maurice O'Leary says:

      To Joanna Tuffy T.D.
      As you pointed out FG gained more councillors than Labour, and much of the reason for that is the chaotic organisation of the Labour Party. Too often at both local and national level, the party is geared towards one councillor or TD.

      You should look at the Drogheda Borough Council where FG got 2+2 in the two wards while Labour with a larger vote in both wards only got 1+1. Both parties ran 2 candidates.
      In the North ward, the LP had 19% more first preferences than FG.
      In the South ward, the LP had 42% more first preferences than FG.

      You gained an MEP in East but only because you made a very shrewd choice of candidate to mop up soft traditional FF votes and it was always a big ask for FG to repeat the miracle of 2004. But while MEPs attract the headlines on election day, the real action is at local level.

      You did well, but you could do so much better.
      At local level, FG is so far ahead that it is only a 10 councillors short of the total of FF+Labour Party. OK, the over-representation of urban areas distorts this observation, but it is still a striking achievement. More importantly it is a base for the next General Election.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Joanna, FG lost a seat for the simple reason that the circumstances that pertained in 2004 didn’t exist this time i.e. the absence of a Green candidate and the fact that Nessa Childers as a former Green made it easier for that campaign to appeal to the Green voter. Especially the disaffected Green voter of whom there were quite a few. Fair dues to Labour, it was a good strategy and it worked well.

      As for the use of the colour green by Fine Gael, are we not allowed to use it? Are we compelled to use blue all the time? I mean I know the colour is strongly associated with the party but we’re not IBM you know.

      As for the relative gains, sure Labour made proportionately more gains just as SF did the last time but you are coming from a lower base so that’s not entirely unexpected. And the hard question is, whether you could have made more if you had run more candidates…

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:

      Maurice,

      You are right. Labour needs to build up the capacity to meet increased support from voters at local level. Where we had the capacity and good vote management we had outcomes such as in the electoral areas of Celbridge, Tallaght Central and Pembroke-Rathmines, where we took 3 seats in each of those 6-seaters .

      But overall (and for example we now have 2 county councillors in Donegal) we made a much bigger breakthrough than any other party, increasing the numbers of councillors we have by a third.

      Joanna

    • Deaglán says:

      Dan, my response to your views on the Reynolds government is among the comments on the post headed “Frank Speaking from Flannery”. But if you want to make a further comment, please do so here. Deaglan

    • Maurice O'Leary says:

      In relation to party colours, Tommy Byrne TD running for MEP in East for FF – The Small Logo Party adopted blue and a very FG format for his personal posters.

      Maybe some of the old animosities are disappearing with Dr Fitzgerald calling for transfers for Eoin Ryan, but that was carrying it too far.

      Speaking of old animosities, I tactically gave SF preferences for the first time because I considered anybody but FF more important for this election than Lisbon 2.

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:

      Dan,

      You can use any colour you like as long as it’s not red! In fact you did that in 2007 with slogans about jobs and stuff which made me very paranoid out in Dublin Mid-West where myself and Frances Fitzgerald were running for the Dáil and it was looking less likely that we would both be elected. So much so that I was a bit put out one Sunday when both of us arrived at the same church to canvass massgoers and Frances was wearing a very bright red jacket!

      Joanna

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Joanna, I do hope your last comment was made with your tongue firmly in your cheek. Red is a very fetching colour on some of the FG ladies (and one or two of the gents for that matter) and I’d hate to think they were precluded from wearing it simply because of its leftish associations.

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:

      Dan,
      It was, kind of. Although what with the red posters and Frances dressed in red, and in areas Labour traditionally did well in , I have to admit that I really did wonder if Fine Gael were trying to muddy the waters a bit.

      Just thought I’d point out that this post by Deaglán gets a good mention on http://www.irishelection.com:
      http://www.irishelection.com/2009/06/flannery-dropped-as-fg-director-of-elections/
      and that same site had this recent post about apparent subliminal messaging by Fine Gael in the use of colours in its posters in Dublin South East:
      http://www.irishelection.com/2009/06/fine-gael-put-up-ff-looking-anti-ff-posters/

      Note the negative message in the FG poster in red in the picture shown with the post. What was Fine Gael getting at there I wonder? Labour won 3 of the 6 seats in the ward in which these posters were placed. Fine Gael won two.

      So Dan it’s not just me who gets preoccupied by these things.

      Joanna

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Joanna, you had 3 seats in that heading into the recent elections and FG had two. So we both held our own there. I’m not sure I’d characterise that as a negative message since it is quite truthful.

      I suspect that the posters given their locale were of the occasional sort that get done up to attract media attention by their content without ever being put up nationwide. Young FG do that quite a bit and it’s tended to be reasonably successful. Or it could have been anyone, the cost of a few posters isn’t that great and as we saw with the session through the recession lots of people can use the elections to get some media focus.

    • Ray D says:

      Sinn Féin did exceedingly well despite the fact that there was continuous smearing of the party and its candidates. This meant that there were virtually no transfers from other candidates.

      But its vote held up and it had some good and surprising successes. What the party lacks is hard work on the ground on the part of all its candidates (Wexford vote shows the returns from extreme laziness on the part of its candidates there) and it needs to build up its support-base by such hard work. There are many local issues to tackle if they get down to it.

    • Deaglán says:

      Sounds a bit harsh on the SF candidates in Wexford.

    • Ray D says:

      Harsh but true. People generally are harsh on SF in any event. I’m trying to give them some hope as we badly need some left-wing party here.


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